Our time in Middle-Earth is “almost” done, I say almost because by now we should all know that in about eight months the Extended Edition will come out providing us with a grander version of “The Battle of the Five Armies.” I have preferred the Extended Editions to the Theatrical Versions as being richer, full of greater detail, and with more diverse character development. With “The Battle of the Five Armies” I believe that the Extended Edition will be the version that makes the difference between this film being just a “pretty good” film and an “excellent” one.
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” is a good film, but its shortcomings prevent it from being the great film it yearns to be. All of these shortcomings come either during the actual battle or at the end of the film itself. The build up to the battle is masterful storytelling in madness, desperation, shifting allegiances, and the Hobbit at the heart of it all.
Martin Freeman maintains a precarious position as the lynchpin between not only three different armies who shouldn’t really fight each other, but also a king falling quickly into madness and those he is on the verge of destroying, who stood by him through the events of two previous films. In this film Bilbo shows why, like his nephew Frodo sixty years later, Gandalf choose him for such a crucial role in such a vital quest. However, as Bilbo steps into the spotlight more to showcase his value this film, it is the band of dwarves who are pushed to the side with many of them regulated to seeming minutes of screentime.
While the many of the dwarves are lost in this film’s narrative there are others who step up and are most welcome to fill the space. Bard (Luke Evans) becomes the key figure for Laketown almost immediately. Thranduil (Lee Pace) of the Wood Elves arrives in Dale in a majestic manner on a most fabulous elk steed. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) are back being awesome. Sarumon (Christopher Lee), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) of the River Elves, and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) of the Wood Elves, have an epic scene that sets the stage for the “The Lord of the Rings” films. Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) and his vicious spawn Bolg (John Tui) return in terrible form and dominate most of their scenes. While I missed the narrative intimacy with the dwarves from the previous films with all these various storylines and characters, and new characters like Dain (Billy Connolly) needing screentime, it is understandable that that relationship will fall to the wayside. This time out our band of dwarves are but a bit part in something much larger than them.
Peter Jackson conveys the scope and scale of these terrible events, from vicious new creatures heretofore unseen onscreen in Middle-Earth to the Total War mentality of the orcs, goblins, trolls, and bats. “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is as much a reflection of our world as it is fantasy. Like he did with “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King” the scenes of slaughter can’t help but remind us of the terrible images flashed on our screens during the news or frequently on youtube. This time however, the narrative is complicated as a small group of displaced ethnically distinct people fight for the right of a homeland against the more heavily armored troops of Azog the Defiler. The images of gigantic monsters, with armored helmets reminiscent of bulldozer blades, plowing through the walls of another displaced ethnically diverse group called into the mind the images of the conflict in Israel/Palestine.
Now, before anyone takes me to task for comparing Israel to Azog the Defiler, I’m just saying the type of warfare portrayed on the screen, where war is fought among populations of women, children, and the elderly, is visually reminiscent. And with images from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I also found correlation between the conflict of the humans of Laketown, displaced to Dale and the Dwarves now back in control of Erebor. The humans don’t want to fight the Dwarves, the Dwarves don’t really want to fight the humans, but due to the obstinance and madness of the few, in this case the one, war becomes inevitable. In that I found many things that related to our world.
Good fantasy, like good science-fiction and good horror, force us to examine our world while being entertained. Only after losing ourselves in another world do we understand that a great storyteller drew parallels with our world, our troubles, our ideals and values and this is what “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” does well, entertains, draws comparisons with our world, and successfully bridges the world of the “The Hobbit” to that of “The Lord of the Rings.” What it doesn’t do well is wrap up its own story within this film.
Once the battle begins the narrative and events begin to fall apart and I believe they will be remedied once the Extended Edition comes out. There are several characters and storylines introduced that are just abandoned. Vital equipment comes seemingly out of nowhere at just the right time. And after the battle is over the wrap-up is lackluster, especially with all the care and precision given to EVERY SINGLE storyline and character in “The Lord of the Rings” at the end of “The Return of the King.”
Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh mined not only the novel “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien but all of his supplemental materials: notes, journals, appendices, to create the epic version of “The Hobbit” that Tolkien himself wrote about re-writing. With all of that care and extra attention to detail not in the original novel, with all of that supplemental material folded in I just found it mind-boggling that the same attention to detail, narrative closure and character given to “The Return of the King” wasn’t given to “The Battle of the Five Armies.” “The Battle of the Five Armies” has the shortest running time of the ANY of the Middle-Earth films, already word is that 30 minutes will be restored in the Extended Edition. There are just too many questions remaining at the end of this film that shouldn’t have to wait 8-9 months to be answered and that is a significant weakness of this film. In my opinion it is where the film fails to achieve the greatness it so rightly deserves.
It so successfully manages to communicate the madness of a king. The desperation of a new leader trying to save his people. The arrogance of another king solely focused on one thing. The loyalty and puzzlement of kin and people who have followed someone through hell and back only to find him falling apart in the most crucial moment. And it portrays the horror of war, of complete and terrible war, the kind we have been fighting since WWI. It is just too bad that the film let this all fall apart in favor of a shorter running time and embrace of necessary spectacle. I guess I’ll find out when the Extended Edition comes out if I’m right or not, until then this is what I have to go on, which leaves us with a “pretty good” film, instead of an “excellent” one.